Montreal’s costly new Champlain Bridge opens to northbound traffic

MONTREAL — Six months late and millions of dollars over budget, Montreal’s new Samuel De Champlain Bridge opened to northbound traffic Monday morning, officially beginning the replacement of its crumbling but very busy predecessor.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne was riding in one of the first cars that rolled across the newly built span at 5 a.m.

The 3.4-kilometre bridge over the St. Lawrence River counts three lanes in each direction, plus a central deck for public transit, as well as a path for cyclists and pedestrians.

Construction began four years ago on the new span, which rose steadily out of the St. Lawrence alongside its predecessor, built by some 1,600 workers at the peak of construction.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated the opening in a Twitter message.

“The new Samuel De Champlain bridge — one of the biggest infrastructure projects and busiest bridges in Canada — is now open, and toll-free,” he wrote.

The Liberals’ 2015 election platform called for a toll-free replacement for the existing span, which is a key link to the city for some 50 million vehicles per year and one of Canada’s busiest spans.

The project became a source of controversy after the previous Conservative government announced the new structure would feature tolls, unlike the existing bridge.

In his own Twitter message, Champagne acknowledged the workers who toiled on a work site which ran around the clock, seven days a week.

“There was a lot of excitement in the air this morning,” he wrote. ”Thanks to the workers who are the heroes of this iconic new bridge. “

It was originally scheduled to open last December, but various delays pushed back the opening and added another $235 million to the original $4.2 billion price tag.

Ottawa and the consortium in charge of construction have still not resolved what penalty will be paid for the late completion of a project initially scheduled to be ready last December.

Under the contract with the consortium, Signature sur le Saint-Laurent, penalties were set at $100,000 a day for the first seven days, then $400,000 a day for subsequent days, with a ceiling of $150 million. Analysts have said the penalty could hit $75 million.

The second phase of the inauguration is set to take place on July 1, when the lanes heading off the island will open.

The disintegrating 57-year-old bridge it replaces, which has long been one Canada’s busiest spans, will be dismantled over the next three or four years, at a cost of up to $400 million.

The new bridge is expected to last 125 years.

The Canadian Press

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